Although no one believes me, I am actually in Hawaii for a Food Safety Expo where I will be giving two speeches. OK, I admit that there might be a bit of sun and an attempt at recalling how I once knew how to surf. But when I picked up the paper this morning I learned that the Hawaiian Governor is about to veto a food safety bill that overwhelmingly passed both houses and was set to go into effect a few days ago.
Here is what I have been able to glean between surfing lessons. Hawaii Bill 667 would have created a food safety and security program within the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. However, according to news reports, although Governor Abercrombie “believes food safety is important, this bill does not provide any funding to implement the specified mandates, nor does it provide any authority to establish administrative rules.”
So, for that you veto it? So what was in the Bill? Here is the preamble:
Safe production, distribution, and consumer handling of food require knowledge of food borne pathogens, chemical toxins, food quality, and labeling.
Hawaii’s current system of regulation is understaffed, and the remaining staff is unprepared or untrained for the rapid changes that have occurred in risk assessment, production and distribution methodologies, and new foods and emerging pathogens.
Food safety programs are also not integrated among government agencies, hampering communication and cooperation.
In addition, many of Hawaii’s growers are not implementing good agricultural practices. This failure to follow science-based, risk-reducing food production practices is worsened by the existence of the rat lungworm nematode in Hawaii. When consumed, this nematode can cause serious illness, as has happened numerous times during the past few years.
Seems pretty reasonable to me.
The Bill goes on – The food safety and security program would be within the Department of Agriculture and would:
(1) Provide training, certification, support, and assistance to the agricultural industry;
(2) Assist the Hawaii agricultural industry in achieving food safety and security in a cost-effective and efficient manner; and
(3) Perform all inspections and certifications of agricultural commodities in an efficient, effective, and expeditious manner; and Develop and implement programs to educate and develop the agricultural industry to meet state and federal laws, rules, and regulations.
So, as a tourist it seems pretty responsible to have such measure in place so you can enjoy the sun and surf and not spend your vacation time in the ER. It also seems that a few outbreaks linked to locally grown animals, fruits or vegtables would be a bad thing for tourist dollars. So, is it all about not being able or willing to fund it? Or is it about something else too? One commentator about the bill said it this way:
Farmers and restaurant owners described how even the current food safety certification process alienates small farmers from participating in Hawaii’s food and Ag industry. The demands and costs to obtain the required certifications are more fit for large operations and unreasonable for small farmers. The food safety rules are also more of a concern for large supermarkets, and not small-scale stores or restaurants….
The Hawaii Farmer’s Union states on its petition: “After examining the bill and considering the likely consequences of its passage, we have developed a deep concern that it will negatively effect local farmers and the consumers relying on them to supply healthy food.”
While corresponding State departments and other organizations supports House Bill 667, there is an overwhelming, and often unheard voice of concern in the mainstream media from those who will be leading Hawaii’s future in feeding ourselves.
There appears to be a conflicting message being sent to Hawaii’s farmers. Our lawmakers say they recognized the need for agriculture, but the measures they support alienate local small farmers in favor of larger operations that function on exporting cash crops.
Once again the local food movement throws food safety to the side in exchange for the belief that somehow local food is safer if not regulated.
I guess I will be looking for that rat lungworm nematode in my Hawaiian locally grown produce.